Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Bell Curve

Hi everybody, hope all is well.  We at Team Toa are still super-busy this week, so I am posting an article from the nonprofit news organization, Chalkbeat, that is devoted to coverage of our American education system.  This piece titled "When Is a Student 'Gifted' or 'Disabled'?  A New Study Shows Racial Bias Plays a Role in Deciding" is a nice coda to the article I posted in September's "Talented Tenth" blog entry,  Check it out!


Racial bias among educators may play a larger role than previously understood in deciding whether students are referred for special education or gifted programs, according to new research from NYU.

The study, the first of its kind to show a direct link between teacher bias and referrals for special services, found stark differences in how teachers classify students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds showing identical signs of disability or giftedness.

Teachers were more likely to see academic shortfalls as disabilities among white students, even when students of color demonstrated the same deficits.  They tended to see these struggles as "problems to fix," the study explains, if students were white.  And students of color were more likely be referred for special-education testing when they had emotional or behavioral issues compared with identical white peers — and were less likely to be identified as gifted.

Those findings may help inform a debate that has divided researchers: Is special education racist if students of color tend to represent a greater share of its population?  Or do problems associated with poverty that can affect cognitive development (lead exposure, for instance) mean that students of color might actually be underrepresented in special education settings?

The study, which is set to appear in the journal Social Science Research, doesn't resolve that debate.  But it does offer evidence that bias plays a role in both over- and under-classifying students for certain services.

"The issue is that racism affects all of us, and teachers are in positions of power," said Rachel Fish, the study's author and a professor at New York University's Steinhardt School.

Educators are an important focus because they are responsible for about 75 percent of all referrals for gifted or special ed programs, according to the report.  And in the vast majority of cases, the evaluation process confirms a teacher's suspicion.

Fish was able to isolate a student's race as a deciding factor by giving 70 third- and fourth-grade teachers culled from an unnamed large, northeastern city a survey that described identical behaviors, but signaled different racial identities.  Teachers were randomly assigned to read profiles of fictional male students who showed signs of academic challenges, behavioral/emotional deficits, or giftedness.  The only thing that changed was their name: Jacob, Carlos, or Demetrius.

The teachers who participated were more likely to see academic deficits in white students as "medicalized problems to fix," while black and Latino students with the same deficits were seen as ordinary.  The implication, according to the study, is that "low academic performance is normal for [students of color], and not a problem to remediate."

And in terms of behavioral challenges, black and Latino students' actions were "seen as more aggressive and problematic than misbehavior by white boys."

That could have troubling implications for equal access to appropriate education services because students who are classified as having behavioral issues tend to be treated differently.

"If you're labeled with an emotional behavior disorder, you're likely going to be excluded from the general education classroom and it's likely you'll be greatly stigmatized," Fish said in an interview.  While there isn't much conclusive research on how students' classifications affect them down the road, there is evidence that being labeled with a behavioral disorder is associated with future incarceration.

The study also found that bias helped determine whether students were considered gifted: Teachers evaluated white students' skills more favorably than their black and Latino peers.

The picture is slightly more complicated for English learners.  Teachers tended to refer a student with mild academic challenges for special education services if he was a white ELL student, as opposed to a black or Latino ELL peer.  They were more likely to perceive Latino boys as having behavioral issues if they were non-native English speakers.   But they were less likely to perceive white ELL boys as having behavior problems than their white non-ELL peers, according to the study.

Many of these problems are evident in New York City, where students of color are underrepresented in gifted and talented programs, and white students often face less severe behavioral interventions.

Still, Fish acknowledges that the study has some limitations and shouldn't be overgeneralized.  Because it relies on a small group of teachers evaluating fictional students, it's hard to claim that her findings apply in real situations across the board.

But Celia Oyler, a professor at Teachers College who studies inclusive education, said that while previous research has shown racial disparities in gifted and special education, this study is among the first to describe one mechanism of how that sorting happens.

"We don't really have very good ways to get at implicit bias," she said.  "And this is a really, really good way."

Still, like Fish, Oyler is careful to point out that the findings don't suggest teachers should be branded as racists; there are larger institutional factors at play that enable implicit bias.

"What is wrong with our system that we continue to sort and label kids at both ends of the imagined bell curve," she asks, "and then give them different kinds of educational opportunities based on what we perceive them to be?"

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Old and Infirm

Hi guys, please check out a recent article from the Tanzania Daily News titled "Old Age and Disability Is Not a Curse."


"When I was in primary school, I used to tell our teacher that I could not see.  I would ask: 'Can you please read for me?  But the teacher would say, 'Why do you come to school then if you cannot see?'" narrated Robert Bundala, a peer researcher.

While the government has invested much in improving the education sector in the country, a report called "Hear My Voice: Old Age and Disability Is Not a Curse" of September 2016 notes a number of challenges including poor infrastructure and unfriendly learning environments for persons with disabilities.

The recently launched report by Sightsavers in partnership with ADD International, HelpAge International, and Ifakara Health Institute reveals many of society's misconceptions and beliefs around people with disabilities and the aged.

This report found out that people with disabilities and older people in Tanzania face disappointing issues such as lack of access to education and health services, sexual violence and marriage break-ups.

There is also poor treatment from family members as well as violence and discrimination towards people with albinism due to traditional beliefs and practices.

The Country Director of Sightsavers, Mr. Gosbert Katunzi, is of the view that disability and old age are issues concerning all Tanzanians and, as the report makes clear, the groups have an active duty to playing a role in all spheres of society.

Discrimination against children with disabilities and limited teacher training have also been reported as obstacles in accessing education.  The research notes that more teachers should be trained to provide quality inclusive education for children with disabilities.

Curricula in primary schools should be flexible and adapt to the needs of diverse learners so children with disabilities can benefit from quality education.  On the other hand, parents of children with disabilities should be sensitized to the importance of taking their children to school to receive education.

Limited accessibility of health services has also been cited in the report, as well as shortage of medical equipment and supplies at health facilities, and poor communication skills among healthcare providers and high costs incurred when seeking care.

A peer researcher, Elizabeth Bukwela, narrating a story of a 32-year-old participant with a hearing impairment, said: "I usually go alone to the hospital but I have been experiencing a lot of difficulties because I couldn't express myself, since healthcare providers do not understand sign language.

Another participant was quoted as saying: "I remember another sad story in which a pregnant woman who was blind had gone to give birth at a health facility.  She delivered twins but reported that she was given one baby only."

Based on those aspects, the research calls on social welfare officers to conduct frequent visits in villages to inquire and understand the needs of persons with disabilities and older persons.  It is also noted that health facility infrastructures should be made accessible to persons with disabilities and should include trainings of healthcare providers on how to interact with the disabled and older persons.

Strict measures should be put in place so that health facilities can make sure that health staff who abuse or mistreat persons with disabilities and older persons are taken to task.

Lack of employment is also pointed out as among challenges for persons with disability, thus there is a need for a call for support and guidance from local authorities and the government by way of establishing income generating activities as well as entrepreneurship skills.

Communities, on the other hand, should be supportive enough to the groups so that they can actively get involved and share their skills, life experiences, and knowledge.

Parents of children with disabilities were identified as the reason for their children's relationship difficulties and marriage breakdowns, because they were taking over the role of choosing fiancées or partners for their children.

It has been identified that females with disabilities have been frequently humiliated by being forced to live with men who were not of their choice.  Older people felt neglected by their families and communities because they were poor and had no incomes.

The report notes that persons with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities should be made aware that all matters related to marriage, family, parenthood, and relationships should be decided freely on an equal basis with others.  Women with disabilities should not be exploited, threatened, or mistreated.

It was further explained that peer influence contributed to women with disabilities being harassed in their marriages.

Measures should be taken to raise awareness on gender equality and discrimination in communities, including the need to report physical, verbal, and sexual abuse to the police.  Participants have recounted mistreatment by some parents who see their children disabilities as a burden and therefore decide to abandon them.

"I stayed at home because they said that a person with hearing impairment is like a patient, that should not be engaged in any activity," revealed one participant.  More awareness should be created to reduce stigma and discrimination of persons with disabilities and older people.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Fall Fanfare

As expected, it has been a busy Fall thus far with much fanfare expected by its finale!  (You guys know how much I loooove a good alliterative blog subject, right?!)

I have been in the States since late August, busily working on Toa matters.  Whereas in TZ I am on-the-ground and in school, in NYC I am behind-the-scenes and often working in solitude.  It is a different "hat" but one that is necessary to wear to keep this whole machine rolling on.

First order of business has been to re-order our collateral products.  This means editing and re-printing brochures, creating business cards and setting up Toa emails for key staff members, and ordering Toa tee-shirts for the expected 2017 cohort.  This year, we were fortunate to receive support from the International Association of Special Education, who helped to offset the cost of the shirts.  Asante sana, IASE!

Next on the list has been to meet with our web designer and discuss an overhaul for the Toa Nafasi website.  Last week, Carla and I sat down with Michael Schafer of Openbox 9.  He will be in charge of this undertaking, and Heidi and I are already busy collecting photos and writing copy for use on the site.

True to her title, Heidi has also been heading up our grants research, investigating options for further sources of funding and putting all the data in order.  Additionally, she has revived our social media platforms and, polepole, we are developing an online presence once again.  Asante sana, Heidi!

The U.S. Board of Directors had its first physical meeting of 2016 just last week in Washington at which we fleshed out year-end plans.  We developed a timeline of email blasts, social media touches, and of course, our actual Friendraiser event, which will be held in Washington DC on Tuesday, November 15th.

For me, personally, I am devoting some time to writing.  Toa has decided to apply for a fellowship from Echoing Green, which is "a social innovation fund that acts as a catalyst for impact."  They invest in people with ideas that suggest innovative solutions to issues like Education, Economic Development, Hunger and Poverty Alleviation, and Health.  I'm also developing a paper for the next IASE conference, to be held in Perth, Australia.  It's actually a nice change of pace to be able to step outside of the flurry of day-to-day activities and think about the larger impact Toa is making on this community, not just the children but their teachers as well.

Of course, I can't just while away my days, writing from lofty highs and intellectualizing the Project however much I want to; there's plenty of "icky" stuff to do as well.  Falling into that unfortunate – but obviously, necessary – category are: preparing the 2017 budget, hiring a U.S. accountant, and reaching out to potential new donors in the corporate world.

The budget is icky just because it requires numbers, and numbers in cells, and formulas for those cells, and, well, I'd rather be writing with the Roman alphabet from lofty highs....  Thank goodness, Heidi is now on staff for guidance and support.  Ditto the accountant – not really my thing, but as Toa expands, so too do our needs.  The outreach to new friends in corporate networks is not so much icky as scary.  I certainly believe in Toa, its mission, and its model, but it's a little nerve-wracking preparing to take meetings with executives at international investment firms.  It's a loooong way from Msaranga Primary School to Morgan Stanley!  Here's hoping I still have some of that winning book publicist charm from pre-2007!!

Back in Moshi, Hyasinta seems to be handling things ably: the teachers carry on with their work, the students continue with their lessons, and everyone is generally happy.  Gasto is working on the issues that still persist: lack of classrooms, particularly at Mnazi; Toa paperwork in Dar es Salaam; and various administrative duties specific to the Tanzanian aspects of the Project.

We are starting – at Heidi's initiative – a new enrichment program for the teachers whereby once a month, we will have some sort of professional development or life skills workshop.  Last month, Gasto and Heidi arranged for a Social Security officer to come and talk to the staff about the newly implemented benefits system.  In coming months, we are planning health seminars and round table discussions on various articles I've found and will have translated into Swahili.  We will also be featuring each teacher, in due course, on the blog and in her own words.  Hyasinta has conducted interviews with all the women and, as soon as I have time to translate, I will put them up one by one.

Finally, check out this photo that Heidi recently took of a child so intent on his studies, he forgot to stick his tongue back in his mouth!  Sometimes, school is just that interesting!!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Inclusion = Equality

Shalom from The Nation's Capital, dear readers.  I have been in town for a Jewish High Holidays - Toa Nafasi meetings - family and friends collabo this past week.  It has been an exhausting though fun-filled and productive time, but I'm looking forward to getting back to New York.

Since I'm in DC, I gotta post something from a DC rag, right?  So here's a recent entry from Valerie Strauss's blog, The Answer Sheet on The Washington Post's online edition.  It offers the compelling testimony of parents of an autistic child, and their strong desire to have her educated inclusively.  Such reasoning for inclusion versus self-contained classes for special education needs students is exactly what Toa Nafasi is all about!  Check it out!!


Parents: Why Our Second-Grader Is Not Going Back to School 

How to educate children with disabilities is one of the most difficult conversations in education.

Federal law requires that school districts provide the least restrictive environment with non-disabled peers, to the maximum extent appropriate, but there is a difference of opinion in the disability world about what that means for students with severe disabilities.  Are self-contained classes better?  Should they be in regular classrooms with supports?  How do you decide which students should be in which environment?

In this post, the mother and father of a child with autism write about why they want her in a regular classroom and believe that self-contained special education classrooms can be damaging.  This was written by Vikram Jaswal, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, and Tauna Szymanski, an attorney and volunteer chair of the Arlington Inclusion Task Force. 

By Vikram K. Jaswal and Tauna M. Szymanski 

Like most children across the country, our 7-year-old should be returning to school this fall.  She is a happy kid with a thirst for knowledge.  The second-grade curriculum in our public school involves experimenting with magnets, writing stories, analyzing graphs, and learning about Susan B. Anthony's legacy.  It looks perfect for her.

But our daughter has a disability, and we learned a few weeks ago that she was not going to be allowed to be educated with the other second-graders.  Instead, for the third year in a row and like 1 million other children with disabilities in the United States, she would have to spend at least half of each day in a segregated, "self-contained" classroom with other children with disabilities — an educational practice we have come to learn is questionable at best.

When our daughter started school, we embraced this model of special education.  We thought that she would be better off in a smaller class with fewer distractions, where the instruction could be tailored to her specific needs.  We knew that she would be isolated from her peers, but we thought that it would be worth it in the long run.  We were wrong.

Over 30 years of research has shown that students with disabilities learn more and better when they are given the supports they need in regular classrooms, alongside peers who do not have disabilities.

For example, in a recent series of studies, Jennifer Kurth and Ann Mastergeorge compared autistic middle schoolers who had been educated since kindergarten in either regular or self-contained classrooms.  This placement in kindergarten was determined by zip code, not ability: Those in the regular classrooms lived in a district that did not have self-contained classrooms; all children were educated together.  Students in the two groups had similar IQ scores (none above 70), but those educated in regular classrooms scored five to nine times higher than those educated in self-contained classrooms on every measure of reading, writing, and math achievement given.

This is a dramatic difference, but the explanation is simple: opportunity and access.  The autistic students in the regular classrooms had more opportunities to learn.  They spent almost 90 percent of their time engaged in instructional activities; those in the self-contained classrooms did so just 60 percent of the time.  Most of the rest of their time was spent taking breaks.

Autistic students in the regular classrooms also had more exposure to grade-level material: The curriculum they used was aligned with the one used by the students without disabilities almost 90 percent of the time.  In contrast, the curriculum used in the self-contained classrooms was aligned just 0.1 percent of the time.  Over one-third of the instruction involved no curriculum at all.

The research on the benefits of educating disabled children in regular classrooms could not be clearer.  No study conducted since the late 1970s has shown an academic advantage for students educated in separate settings, but plenty have shown the reverse.  The research on the social benefits of including disabled children is similarly impressive: Studies show that disabled children make more friends and feel more connected to the school community when they are educated alongside non-disabled children.  There are benefits for the non-disabled peers too: Studies show they exhibit more positive attitudes about diversity and even experience increased academic engagement themselves.

In the face of all this evidence, why are so many students with disabilities like our daughter — almost 1 in 5 according to the U.S. Department of Education — still educated in separate classrooms for most or all of the school day?  Why does this discriminatory and harmful practice still exist?

One reason is that educational institutions change at a glacial pace.  Schools are driven more by historical conventions rather than the needs of students and new developments in our understanding of how best to educate them.  But it doesn't have to be this way: If hospitals treated patients today the same way they did 30 years ago despite the development of new procedures with better outcomes, they would not be allowed to operate.

A second reason is fear: Parents worry that their disabled children will not receive the kind or level of support they need in a regular classroom.  We share this concern, but given the overwhelmingly negative outcomes associated with self-contained classrooms, we do not see it as a reason to perpetuate them.  On the contrary, we see it as an opportunity for schools to innovate: Why not take advantage of the experiences and expertise of the schools and districts across the country that are successfully supporting disabled students with significant support needs in regular classrooms?  How do they do it, and how can we do it better?  The special educators we know are dedicated, caring, and creative professionals who should be allowed to put their considerable talents to work in this way.

A third reason is that many people find it hard to imagine including children who have significant support needs in a regular classroom.  How could a non-speaking autistic student, for example, or someone who has an intellectual disability be expected to "keep up" with the other students?

This objection reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of what we and many other advocates for inclusive education are advocating for.  We recognize that there are differences in ability; these are evident even in regular classrooms among children who do not have documented disabilities.  Successful teachers in these classrooms already differentiate their instruction, make use of Universal Design for Learning principles, and work in teams so that they can reach and challenge students in their classroom regardless of initial ability.

Teachers in school districts across the country are already modifying and adapting the curriculum so that all students — English language learners, gifted students, culturally diverse students, students with physical, developmental, or intellectual disabilities — can learn and be challenged together, even if they learn at different levels and master the curriculum to different degrees.  In the Kurth and Mastergeorge studies described earlier, the autistic middle schoolers educated in regular classrooms did not score at the same level as most of their typically developing peers on achievement tests.  But on every measure of reading, writing and arithmetic — skills that all students should develop to the greatest extent possible — they did much better than the autistic students who had been educated in self-contained classrooms.  (Note that students in both groups had IQ scores at or below 70, which is one of the criteria for intellectual disability.)

The modern paradigm of inclusive education is one that is based in equity — one that espouses a philosophy that schools should welcome all students and that all students belong.  In this model, students with disabilities continue to receive the specialized instruction and other supports they need, but these services are delivered in the classroom they would attend if they did not have a disability.  Students who spend their first two decades in a segregated setting are not going to be prepared for a life in a world that is not segregated.  As the disability rights advocate Norman Kunc says, "There is a simple rule when it comes to segregation: No matter how good the swimming instructor is, you cannot teach someone to swim in the parking lot of the swimming pool."

Self-contained classrooms are sometimes described as steppingstones to regular classrooms, helping children learn the skills they need to be included.  The data do not back this up.  In a 2007 study by Susan Williams White and colleagues, for example, 81 percent of autistic children who attended a self-contained classroom in first grade were still in a self-contained classroom in eighth grade.  Clearly, most disabled students in self-contained classrooms are not learning whatever they need to make the transition to a regular classroom, and in the meantime, they are falling further and further behind their peers.  We know high school students with disabilities in our district who continue to be taught kindergarten-level concepts even though they have asked for more challenging material.

Some parents we know believe a self-contained classroom is the best place for their child's particular needs, and we respect that.  But in light of the well-documented benefits of inclusive education, parents who would like their children supported in regular classrooms should have that option.

Over the past two years, we have worked with many other parents to advocate for this kind of reform, sharing the research with our school district, attending hundreds of meetings, serving on district committees, and founding a grass-roots task force.  We have couched our appeals in terms of social justice and civil rights: "Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."  We have pleaded for empathy: "Imagine how our daughter feels when she cannot find her yearbook picture next to the other children in her grade."  We have cited the law: "She is supposed to be educated in the least restrictive environment."  We have even pointed out that inclusive education can save the district money.  We believe in the public school system, and our advocacy efforts will continue.

But when we learned that despite our best efforts, our daughter — who recently told us that her motto is "Never underestimate me" — would once again have to spend most of her day in a segregated classroom, we decided that we could not send her back to school.  Like all children, her future depends on her education, and we cannot afford to let her fall even further behind.  This year, she will learn about magnets, Susan B. Anthony, and other second grade things elsewhere in our community.  We look forward to her return to our neighborhood school when all students are welcomed and supported in regular classrooms and can enjoy the same educational access and opportunities.

Friday, September 30, 2016


Sorry, guys, I just couldn't resist....

From The Washington Post, by David A. Fahrenthold: Trump Foundation lacks the certification required for charities that solicit money (with a few [related reports] and [sarah snarks] sprinkled in for your delectation....)


Donald Trump's charitable foundation — which has been sustained for years by donors outside the Trump family — has never obtained the certification that New York requires before charities can solicit money from the public, according to the state attorney general's office.  [Aw, say it ain't so, Donny!]

Under the laws in New York, where the Donald J. Trump Foundation is based, any charity that solicits more than $25,000 a year from the public must obtain a special kind of registration beforehand.  [Duh.]  Charities as large as Trump's must also submit to a rigorous annual audit that asks — among other things — whether the charity spent any money for the personal benefit of its officers.

If New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) finds that Trump's foundation raised money in violation of the law, he could order the charity to stop raising money immediately.  With a court's permission, Schneiderman could also force Trump to return money that his foundation has already raised.

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Schneiderman's office declined to comment on whether it was investigating the lack of registration for the Trump Foundation.  Schneiderman had previously launched an investigation of the foundation in the wake of reports by The Washington Post that Trump used his charity's money to make a political gift, to buy paintings of himself, and to settle legal disputes involving his for-profit businesses[Seriously, Donald, paintings of yourself?  This is what you do with embezzled money??]

Tax filings show that in each of the past 10 years for which there are records, the Trump Foundation raised more than $25,000 from outsiders.  Tax records alone do not reveal whether the donations amounted to solicitations under New York law, but in several cases there is strong evidence that they did.

For instance, the foundation has received more than $2.3 million from companies that owed money to Trump or one of his businesses — but that were instructed to pay the foundation instead, according to people familiar with those transactions.

In the most obvious example of a public solicitation, the Trump Foundation set up a website early this year to collect small-dollar donations that it promised to pass along to veterans.  [Uncool.]  In all, the website said, the Trump Foundation took in $1.67 million through that site.

[Trump directed $2.3 million owed to him to his tax-exempt foundation instead]

But, as of this week, the Trump Foundation had not obtained the state registration required to ask for donations, according to a spokesman for Schneiderman.  [Really uncool.]

Experts on charity law said they were surprised that Trump's foundation — given its connections to a wealthy man and his complex corporation — did not register to solicit funds.  [Bahahahahaha!]

"He's a billionaire who acts like a thousandaire," said James J. Fishman, a professor at Pace University's law school in White Plains, N.Y.  He said Trump's foundation seemed to have made errors, including the lack of proper registration, that were more common among very small family foundations.  [BAHAHAHAHAHA!!]

"You wouldn't expect somebody who's supposed to be sophisticated, and brags about his business prowess, would run his foundation like this," Fishman said.

The Trump Foundation was established by Trump in 1987 to give away the proceeds of his book "The Art of the Deal."  Trump is still the foundation's president.

For many years, Trump was the foundation's sole donor: He gave a total of $5.4 million between 1987 and 2006.

Under state law, the foundation during that period was required to have only the ­least-demanding kind of certification, referred to as "EPTL," because it is governed by the Estates, Powers and Trusts Law.

Under that registration, the Trump Foundation filed annual reports with the Internal Revenue Service and the state.  But the state did not require an independent audit to ensure that the charity was handling its funds properly.

[Trump is doing his foundation a favor by "storing" its portrait on golf resort wall, adviser says]

But starting in the early 2000s, Trump's foundation began to change.  It began to take in donations from other people.  [Mo' Money.]

At first, it happened a little bit at a time.  In 2004, for instance, an autograph seeker sent $25 to Trump Tower, along with a book he wanted Trump to sign.  The book came back signed.  The money was deposited in the Trump Foundation.

Then, the gifts began to get larger.  [Mo' Problems.]

In 2005, Trump's wife, Melania, was named "Godmother" of a new ship launched by Norwegian Cruise Lines.  As part of its agreement with Melania Trump, the cruise lines said, it gave $100,000 to the Trump Foundation.  The Trump campaign has not responded to requests for comment on the gift.

In the meantime, Trump himself drastically reduced his gifts.  [Ya don't say?!]  After 2008, tax records show he stopped giving altogether.  Since then, according to tax records, the Trump Foundation has received all of its incoming money — more than $4.3 million — from other donors.

Under state law, charities that solicit donations from others in New York must register under a different law, called "7A" for its article heading.  [7A is also the home of Melvin's Juice Box and Miss Lily's Jerk Shack and Rum Bar - a taste of the Caribbean right here in the East Village.]

In that law, the definitions of "solicit" and "in New York" are both broad.  Solicit means "to directly or indirectly make a request for a contribution, whether express or implied, through any medium."  The requirement covers any solicitation that happened in New York or involved a donor who was in New York when somebody called them and asked.  [Crystal clear.]

The only thing it wouldn't cover is somebody giving money without being asked," said Pamela Mann, a former head of the New York State charities bureau, who is now in private practice at Carter Ledyard & Milburn.  "The law says that soliciting from the public in New York, without being registered to do so, is an illegal act."

The Trump Foundation has received more than $25,000 from people other than Trump in all of the past 10 years shown in tax records.  In some cases, the donors have declined to comment, so it is not clear whether the donations were actually solicited and, if so, whether the solicitation happened in New York.

[Trump used $258,000 from his charity to settle legal problems]

But, in several cases, The Post's reporting has indicated that the Trump Foundation or Trump himself did help bring in the money.

In 2011, for instance, Trump was the star of a televised "roast" on Comedy Central in New York.  He directed his $400,000 appearance fee to the Donald J. Trump Foundation, according to a Trump campaign staffer.

Between 2011 and 2014, the Trump Foundation also received nearly $1.9 million from a New York businessman named Richard Ebers, who sells high-end tickets and one-of-a-kind experiences to wealthy clients.  [Googling him now....]

Two people familiar with those transactions told The Post that Ebers bought tickets and other goods and services from Trump, and was instructed — by Trump or someone at his company — to pay the Trump Foundation instead.

Trump's campaign has neither confirmed nor denied The Post's reporting about the nature of the donations from Ebers.  Ebers has declined to comment.

Then, this year, Trump skipped a Republican primary debate in Iowa and instead held a televised fundraiser for veterans' causes.  As part of that effort, he set up a website,, which took donations via credit card — and sent them to the Donald J. Trump Foundation.

"Over 1,670,000 raised online," said the thank-you message from the Trump Foundation, after The Post made a $10 donation in March.  [Scoop!]

The most important consequence of not registering under the more rigorous "7A" level was that the Trump Foundation was not required by the state to submit to an annual audit by outside accountants.  In such an audit, charity-law experts said, the accountants might have checked the Trump Foundation's books — comparing its records with its outgoing checks, and asking whether the foundation had engaged in any transactions that benefited Trump or his busi­nesses.

In recent years, The Post has reported, Trump's foundation does appear to have violated tax laws in several instances.

In 2013, it gave a donation to a political group supporting Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) — despite a ban on nonprofit groups making political gifts.  [Wrong.]  The Trump Foundation then filed an incorrect tax filing, which omitted any mention of that gift, and said incorrectly that the money had gone to a charity in Kansas.  [Heinous.]  Trump paid a $2,500 penalty tax for that political gift this year.

In two other instances, Trump's foundation has made payments which appeared to help settle legal disputes involving Trump's for-profit businesses.  In 2007, Trump's foundation paid $100,000 to settle a lawsuit involving his Mar-a-Lago Club in FloridaAnd in 2012, the foundation paid $158,000 to the charity of a New York man named Martin Greenberg on the day that Greenberg settled a lawsuit against one of Trump's golf courses.  [CRIMINAL.]

Those two cases are under investigation by Schneiderman.  Just this week, his office requested that a Florida attorney provide a copy of the foundation check that Trump had sent to settle the Mar-a-Lago case.  [Well, you asked for "Law&Order," didn'tcha?!]

Trump's son Eric has his own foundation, also headquartered in New York, which raises money from the public through an annual golf tournament.

Unlike his father's charity, however, the Eric Trump Foundation has registered to solicit funds in the state and files an annual audit report.  The two Trump foundations share an accountant, Donald Bender of the firm WeiserMazars.  A spokeswoman for the firm declined to comment on Thursday.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Talented Tenth

Greetings dear readers, hope you are all doing well.  It has been a busy week or so since I last wrote, and I haven't had much time to compose an original entry.  However, not wanting to leave you hanging, I thought this article from The New York Daily News about gifted children and the limited options available to them here in New York (a highly developed city in a highly developed country) offered an interesting perspective.
It's sometimes difficult for us to grasp that the children who we find the most "difficult" or "challenging" are often the ones who harbor hidden talents and special gifts.  We typically see their behavioral idiosyncrasies or subpar academic performances first and foremost.

In Tanzania, The Toa Nafasi Project works with children with learning difficulties or "slow learners," but we also recognize that some children just aren't scholastically inclined and perhaps have other aptitudes worth fostering.  This is an unusual way to look at what is most valued in a developing country.  And, it's interesting to compare and contrast the same in the developed world.

NB on this post's title: Theodore Johnson in The Huffington Post said, "Without question, the term "Talented Tenth" is a sensitive touchpoint among many African Americans.  The implication that 90% of us are helpless victims whose prospects are solely reliant on the book-learning of the others is literally logic from another century, and not well-received today.  [Used by] President Barack Obama, the concept is still of some utility when the emphasis is shifted to promoting an inclusive black collective that inspires and leads others by example and empathy."

The brightest kids need a hand up: It's time to truly invest in gifted and talented education, especially for low-income New Yorkers.
Here's a question you won't find on any city exam: How much does New York spend specifically on gifted and talented programming in grades K-8?  Choose from (a) as much as it spends on special education programming; (b) somewhat more than it spends on special education programming; (c) somewhat less than it spends on special education programming.

Try (d): nothing at all.  New York does not spend any additional money on gifted and talented programming in grades K-8.

New York uses a weighting formula to determine school budgets.  For instance, for every special ed student a school serves, that school receives extra funds ranging from $2,000 to $8,000 a year.  But schools don't get any additional funds if they serve gifted and talented students.

Why does this matter?  Because gifted students who stay trapped in regular classes grow bored, lose interest in school, and fail to realize their full potential.  And good gifted and talented classroom programming costs money.

It requires teachers who are experts in their subject areas with advanced degrees from reputable graduate schools.  It means providing books (not worksheets), well-equipped labs, and opportunities to learn outside the classroom.

Malika, one student I met, was so bored by her classes at her middle school in the Bronx, she hated going to school.  It didn't help that she was getting bullied by her peers for being bookish and criticized by her teachers for being "sassy."

Alas, personal attention, highly qualified teachers, and extra classes for higher-achieving students don't come cheap.  At the city's top private schools, where the expectation is that all students are gifted and talented, middle school tuition approaches $50,000.

I'm not suggesting that New York suddenly double what it currently spends per gifted and talented student to be on par with private schools.  But the current situation is a disaster.  There is so little gifted and talented programming in New York that only the top 1% of students get the chance to participate in true G&T classes.  (These are citywide classes that are considered the gold standard.)

The situation is particularly grim in majority-black districts.  Last year there were no Gifted and Talented classes at all in South Bronx District 7, Crotona Park's District 12, Bedford-Stuyvesant's District 16 or Ocean Hill-Brownsville's District 23.  There were no classes because not enough students in those districts passed — or even sat for — the city's screening exam.

Mayor de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña recognize there is a problem.  A special G&T program has been launched in those four districts with a holistic admissions process that does not rely exclusively on test scores, akin to private school admissions.

That's appreciated, but insufficient.

In 1903, scholar and educator W.E.B. Dubois first publicized the concept of a "talented tenth."  He believed that the top 10% of black students could easily achieve greatness — if given the opportunity through education.

Over 100 years later, New York still doesn't seem to care about its talented tenth.

The result is a self-perpetuating cycle of underachievement and poverty.  Low-income black students are shut out of gifted education at early grades.  They are then unable to compete for spots at New York's prestigious specialized high schools, like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science.

They remain trapped in mediocre schools with peers who bully them and classes that do not challenge them.  They go to community colleges with low graduation rates.  In the end, they remain stuck in the cycle of poverty.

New York must invest in gifted education — budgeting not just for students who are struggling, but for those with the potential for extraordinary success.

Author David Allyn is CEO of The Oliver Scholars Program, which prepares high-achieving African-American and Latino students for success at top independent high schools and prestigious colleges.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

In a New York Minute

Hi everyone and many greetings from the Empire State!  I have been back in the U.S. for just over three weeks now and am completely over any trace of jetlag, food poisoning, or other malaise (except for missing Drogo, of course!).  After going down to Washington two weeks ago and spending a hot second at our favorite national park in West Virginia for Labor Day, I quickly returned to the City to get back into my New York groove.
What groove, you ask?  Well, I'll tell you!  Basically, days consist of an early wake-up, checking the telly for what's going on in the world, running downstairs for coffee (the gas has been out in my apartment building for months now, which is fine since I use my oven for storage, but not being able to boil water is a little annoying), heading to the gym for a workout (on a proper elliptical machine - my little legs are so happy!), coming back up to shower and dress (loooove Western water pressure - almost makes up for the gas sitch!!), and then off again to find a quiet, comfortable work space where I can camp out for the rest of the day and address Toa needs.
At first, I was just going around the corner to the Starbucks on Greenwich (aka the Derek Jeter Starbucks, where he was often photographed when he lived in the West Village and where I spent countless hours stalking him sipping delicious coffee beverages last year).  Now, I have been going farther afield, investigating the small libraries around my alma mater, Columbia, as well as down at NYU, and other non-Starbucks coffee shops and, let's be honest, wine bars around town.
I knew it would be a busy Fall and I must be Kreskin (call me amazing!) because that prediction is totally on point.  Every waking minute of the day, there is something to do!  Good Lord, this business of expansion is busy-making!!  But it's also a lot of fun and I love that the running of Toa Nafasi has gone from a one-woman show to a full-blown Team Toa effort.
Here, in the States, Mom and Pop are on-board as Secretary to the Board and General Counsel respectively.  Our U.S. Board of Directors are all here in Washington with the exception of Veronica Rovegno, who resides in Dar es Salaam, and who I hope to catch up with upon my return to Tanzania.  We are also a newly minted pro bono client of the law firm Akin Gump whose associate Lucy Lee is helping us to navigate the murky waters of corporate sponsorship and matching grants.  With her contacts and a perky presentation from Yours Truly, we are hoping to entice employees of places like JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Citibank, and Bank of America to contribute to the Project.
Back "home" in Kilimanjaro, my affectionately nicknamed troika, HGH (Human Growth Hormone or Hyasinta-Gasto-Heidi) are holding down the fort, Heidi quite literally as she has taken up residence in my "Fort Knox" while I'm gone.  We keep in touch with regular email and Whatsapp contact and are whipping things into shape slowly but surely.
The big thing to be done this Fall is to get our operating budget in proper working order.  Obviously, this informs EVERYTHING else, so Heidi and I are working to make it as accurate as possible.  Once that is more or less finalized and approved by the Board, we can use it in future grant applications, reports, and the like.
A part of getting this budget into workable shape is figuring out the new system of paying the teachers' salaries with NSSF (basically, social security) withholding and income tax.  It's been a bit difficult to get everything just right, but I think we are now on the level and once the system is in place, it will be a cakewalk to keep up.
We are also shoring up our list of potential funding opportunities.  Heidi has created a list of resources based on what came before, mainly through Rhiannon's and before her, Lizzy's, work.  Carla and I have attempted to add possibilities to this list by going down the the Foundation Center and spending a little time searching their databases.
I am also working on a paper titled "Gaining Through Training: Cultivating a Professional Persona in a Rural Setting" which, if accepted, I will be presenting at next year's IASE (International Association of Special Education) biennial conference in Perth, Australia.  It addresses the way in which Toa Nafasi has provided employment opportunities to local women which have not only bestowed them with a paycheck but also with a newfound skilled status.  Additionally, the current and past presidents of the organization have invited me to be part of the planning committee for the 2019 conference to be held....  Dum dum dum!....  In Arusha!!  Of course, I told them that Team Toa would be most delighted to help.
Heidi has already made herself invaluable to the Project by creating a cache of new documents that will enable us to keep track of things more smoothly.  In addition to the Funding Resources List, we now have a template for a donor database which I will start to fill out with all our current donors and their information.  We also now have templates for MOUs with our participating schools, parental consent forms, photo/video consent forms, an agenda for our introductory meeting to parents new to the Project, and the start of an employee handbook which will clearly state the rights and responsibilities of each staff member.  Asante sana, Heidi!
The Toa Nafasi video is nearly complete and we are just waiting on a few finishing touches by Miss Marytza, videographer extraordinaire, so we shall soon be sharing that footage with all our friends of the Project.  Asante sana, Marytza!
Lastly, we are finalizing Toa Nafasi's first official report since being awarded a grant!  Last year, The Masalina Foundation, a family foundation out of Paris, France, awarded The Toa Nafasi Project a generous grant for which we are incredibly grateful.  The terms of the funding however were quite loose with not much reporting requested from their side.  Yet, under Heidi's tutelage, we (mostly Heidi, Carla, and myself) have taken this opportunity to draft a report back to them to show how we spent the money.  It's been a bit of a learning curve for me though I have made progress.  The idea is that grant-writing and then the subsequent report-writing utilize language that is very different from what I would normally use (no shock there!), so the question becomes how do I write a report that employs that type of writing without losing my own voice?
Definitely a give-and-take process, and I probably wouldn't care so much about this particular report except that it was our first grant and one on which Rhiannon and I had so much fun racing to the deadline to complete, so I want to give it it's due diligence.  Thus, I've been line-editing and proof-reading for over a week and it's still not quite right.  For future proposals and reports, methinks I'll leave the grant-writing and its attendant vernacular to Miss Heidi, but I'll just finish this one up and be out of her way!
Think that's all the news that's fit to print (though there's soooo much more: I highlighted my hair, signed up for OkCupid, and bought a new pair of boots, for starters....), so I shall sign off now and come back to y'all next week with further haps.  Take care, everybody!!